At last, after two years, the 2022 TGO Challenge was held in May! In fact, the staggered start, necessitated by continuing Covid-19 concerns and accommodating those who had missed out in 2020/1, meant most of May was taken up with TGOC22.
Not, perhaps, the warm and settled weather we might have hoped for . . . Whilst a few avoided the worst of the weather, the majority, especially the earlier starters, were faced with rather large volumes of water. Footpaths became streams and many burns and rivers required diversions to cross or a wait for water levels to abate. As well as precipitation from above adding to the watery theme there were also strong winds to contend with. Reports of bent and broken tent poles, ripped tents and items blown away were not uncommon!
This year certainly showed that it is not called a “Challenge” for nothing so many, many congratulations to all who successfully got across. A few still managed higher level crossings – windier but with perhaps less water to contend with – and some walked for charities which is a strong motivation to carry on. Everybody has their own challenge whether it be after recovery from surgery or illness or striving to renew fitness after recent lockdowns. Each crossing is equally valid and well deserved after some of the most gruelling conditions for many years.
We had a record number of retirements – 74 from 364 starters – largely due to the trials of the first week. Foot problems, including very bad blisters, were be the main problem but also injuries from falls and slips due to the saturated ground conditions. On one day, which marked a particularly low point on Control, 19 people retired. It is difficult to hear that anybody needs to stop but so many in one day . . . Commiserations to all those of you who had to retire – always a tough decision even when you know there is no choice.
Retirements took a toll on some of our senior walkers which uplifted the very sprightly Harry James (79) to senior Challenger. He was followed by senior lady Maggie Hems (78) who received her 20th crossing commemorative plaque in Montrose – a real achievement to be celebrated. Also celebrating his 20th crossing was vetter, Ian Cotterill looking fit, if a little weather beaten, at the end of it.
We don’t get to do this very often, only once before in fact, but we were very pleased to be able to celebrate a 30th crossing this year with Graham Brookes, another member of our vetting team, looking spry and fit at the end of it. Who knows how many he will go on to do?! He only needs another four to break Bill Robertson’s record. Our youngest Challenger, Daniel Haig (24) successfully made it across and even wants to come back and do it all again, so it appears we have another regular recruit.
Of our twelve potential 10-time Challengers, one withdrew just prior to the Event and sadly, three retired during their crossings. This left eight successful, now 10 timers: Andrew Dawkins, Adrian Fortune, Gordon Green, James Impey, Stevie O’Hara, Ken & Nina Stimson and Heather Thomas-Smith. Very well done to each of them.
We were very pleased to welcome back many more of our overseas Challengers. We had just one last year, putting up with restrictions and quarantines. Saskia Siemensma came back with 105 fellow overseas Challengers joining her. We had people from all over the world from Barbados to Norway and our usual strong contingent from Canada and the USA. Most of them stoic in the face of some very British weather.
We were also back to our usual contingent (30%) of first time Challengers although some of them feel like old friends and we have been exchanging emails for nearly 3 years! We hope this year’s conditions haven’t put them off returning as they are a vital part of the Event’s future.
We had three mountain rescue incidents, but those involved escaped with either no, or only minor injuries. We were commended by Police Scotland and Mountain Rescue on how these were dealt with and especially how well equipped our Challengers were in such inclement weather conditions.
As last year, we ran Challenge Control from our hostel in Newtonmore for the first nine days before moving to the Park Hotel in Montrose for the second half. The volunteers on Control did an outstanding job as it was not without incident. Pauline Marshall, especially, arrived for Day One and was still there on the last day calmly dealing with anything that was thrown at us. Also stalwarts on Control were Neil Oxley, Marie & John Donohoe and Cindy & Alan Hardy – huge thanks to all of them for their very hard work.
We once again opened St Drostans Hostel at Tarfside, on a more scaled down footing than previously, which worked well. Once again, Ann & Alvar Thorn stepped in with their vast experience of running this place and were ably assisted by Rita & Gus McKinnon. The warm welcome Challengers received there were widely reported back to us. Thanks, all four of you.
As usual, in general, the behaviour of most Challengers was exemplary with many going out of their way to help others. Sadly, we had reports of some issues at Ruigh Aiteachain bothy. We are still investigating this so if anyone has any information that might help us get to the bottom of this please contact us.
Thanks go, yet again, to Gordon Menzies for ferrying people across Loch Ness and to the Sutherlands on the ‘other side’ of the water for their fabulous welcome and hospitality. Thanks to Mar Lodge for their tea and biscuits and parcel receiving service and of course to Bill Duncan at Callater Lodge. The staggered start meant they had to fit us around their normal lives and work for even longer than usual.
We had reports from Challengers that all over the Challenge area, B & B establishments and other businesses have gone over and above what might be expected to restore fatigued and wet walkers so that they were able to carry on, especially late arrivals after a day in difficult conditions.
As ever a big thank-you to the Park Hotel – we simply couldn’t imagine holding the Event without them.
Then there are our vetters – we could not run this Event without them. We welcomed two new recruits to the team this year, Roger Boston and Emma Warbrick, both well and quickly integrated into this highly effective and knowledgeable team. Very many thanks to all of you.
There are several others who help us behind the scenes: Gaz Holt, helped us set up and design the new website, Mick Blackburn and Gayle Faulkner for help and advice with our safety procedures and risk assessment and a volunteer who does not want to be named for all his design work on our certificates and just about every document we produce. This is a large amount of time freely given.
Last and by no means least thanks to our sponsors Ultralight Outdoors Gear – not only for the excellent technical T-shirts but also for their support throughout the year. Dan and his team are a pleasure to work with.
The camaraderie of Challengers this year, if anything, was even more apparent due to the taxing conditions many found themselves in and the generosity was amazing. Over £1,000 was raised for Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team from T-shirt sales and general donations and a good sum from Tarfside has gone to Leukaemia UK.
We’d love to hear your Challenge stories. If your blog, vlog or photo collection isn’t already in the TGO Challenge blogroll and you would like it to be added please email us a link. Carey Davies, TGO magazine editor, is interested in articles of around 400 words and photos for the October issue of TGO. Please send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will forward them to him. Ultralight Outdoor Gear are offering a £50 voucher to anyone who has an article published.
Thinking about next year yet?! TGOC23 will take place between 12th and 26th May 2023 and we will be open for entries in mid-September. If you want to catch up with Challengers before then the Scottish Reunion, organised by Kirsten Paterson, will take place 30th September to 2nd October 2022 in Newtonmore. For more information and to book click here. This year the Spring Gathering successfully moved to Hayfield in Derbyshire. Details of the 2023 reunion will be circulated in the autumn. The Hill and Mountain Walking Club was formed by Challengers and meets regularly throughout the year. If you are interested in joining click here.
Finally, there was another celebration in Montrose when Ava Rennie & Kenny Crosbie tied the knot in their Challenge T-shirts at Montrose Library the day after completing their crossing. This was followed by a more formal affair with more traditional attire at the weekend. We wish them a long and happy marriage – and of course many more Challenges too!
See you next year!
Photos: John Arlington, Sue Banfield, Alan Bellis, Bjorn Besse, Benny Braden, Rachel Cornish, Dominique Drewe-Martin, Louise Evans, Aina Geber, Kazia Grabska, Craig Gulley, Cyril Huart, Amy Jones, Jonas Mjavatn, Sam Hindman, Anna-Maria Wedlich, Sabine Zawadski